In which I give praise for fellow writers

I’m sure you’ve already heard writers bellyaching about what a lonely business it is, sitting chained to the computer in our ivory towers and only receiving news once a year by owl, er, email. Actually, that’s true to some extent. But it’s not so important. What I’ve found out in the course of this first bumpy year of publication, what is truly important, is that there are people out there who know exactly what the isolation feels like – and knowing, don’t hesitate to step in when there is need, with encouragement and very practical support.

Sometimes, as a new writer, you do feel like you’re shouting into a void. Try my book! you cry. My book! My book! the echo responds… and there doesn’t seem to be much more of an answer.

But others have been in this situation before me, of course. I’ve been lucky enough to find a fantastic network of colleagues in New Zealand and Australia, who support each other through the business of book promotion in those rocky first years. Because writers have finally figured this one out: no one else is going to do the nitty gritty, day-to-day work of promotion for us. And there is room for every single quality title out there, far more room (on shelves and in e-readers) than the doom-laden prognostics of chain booksellers would have you believe. The main thing is to register on readers’ radars; why would everyone want to buy the same thing? So this is a note of thanks to my fellow authors, for seeing a collaborative way forward. I cannot say how much I appreciate your support, praise and encouragement.

To cite just one example: one of my colleagues, Helen Lowe, recently won the Sir Julius Vogel award for her fantasy title, ‘The Heir of Night’, at Context in Auckland this June. When she heard I was unable to make it to the convention, Helen took it upon herself to read extracts from both ‘Tymon’s Flight’ and ‘Samiha’s Song’, in addition to her own works, at the same reading. She read beautifully; you can see the first pair of extracts here. The second pair will be posted shortly.

‘Thornspell’ and ‘Tymon’s Flight’

As you can imagine, having a lovely, award-winning author offer to read your work at a convention is a huge boost! I can only say: I have the best colleagues in the world. I wish them every scrap of karmic return due! 🙂

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8 Responses to In which I give praise for fellow writers

  1. Gillian says:

    Helen is awesome.

  2. Giada M. says:

    I haven’t read your books yet, Mary. But I can’t wait to get my hands on ‘Tymon’s Flight’ and ‘Samiha’s Song’.
    They sound great and as soon as I read them I’m going to post a review on my blog. 🙂

  3. Helen Lowe says:

    Dear Mary,

    Thank you for the paeans of prasie you have heaped upon me–I am uncertain whether to be a kiwi and run and hide my head, or go right out and buy a bigger size in hats!

    But seriously: firstly, in terms of the reading, are we not friends? So, being friends, how could I not think of you and offer to read when I knew you could not be there? I honestly don’t think this merits any special praise: it “should” be the absolutely everyday thing that we writers do for each other as colleagues and writing buddies.

    For me, it’s the first big C: Collegiality.

    The second is Community: because I believe that you are absolutely right, Mary. There are so many readers out there wanting a diversity and range of books (just as we do ourselves!) so by supporting each other as writers we are growing that community of reader and writers (and as I found out at ConText in my panels with Frank and Donald, artists as well!) There’s a lovely Maori word here “awhi” (short for “awhina”) which is all about encouragement and support for each other. So if I am able, I always hope to “awhi” other writers, because in a way, I can’t help feeling that is part of our duty to the “deity of story” whom we all serve. (Big statement, huh!? Blame Leonard Cohen: he talked about the ‘god of song’ [or something like] in “Alleluia”. And Mary Renault, for “The Mask of Apollo.”)

    So why do it? Well, why not? Besides, think about the alternatives here: we can awhi each other (as writers and human beings generally) or we can exist in fear and isolation? Um, let me see… it’s a bit of a no brainer really, isn’t it?

    So why doesn’t everyone go the C route (collegiality, community, compassion, caritas etc)? If we’re talking our industry, I reckon its fear: sometimes I even feel like I’ve strayed into the old Angels song “She Keeps No Secrets”, ie an industry ‘locked in a tower armed with defences.” And fear can be pretty contagious (another C word) so I figure all we can do is stay alert and when we catch ourselves operating in the F-mode, kick ourselves back into “C”, as much as we can, whenever we can: ie contagious collegiality, community, compassion, caritas … 😉

    Boy, wasn’t that a ramble?! So now, Mary, I’m going to invoke the B word and ‘blame’ you [grins.] But honestly, dear Mary, “if we do not hang together, we shall surely hang” so just call me enlightened self-interest gal. And/Or: reading your wonderful books and inviting people to take the same delight I did in your wonderful trailer? I’m right back in “no brainer” territory already!

    (PS Thanks for the nice things you said about me book!)

    • MaryV says:

      Well, I subscribe wholeheartedly to your ‘C’ philosophy. And if you add Cameraderie, Constructive Criticism and Cats to the mix, I think we have a Complete writerly brew… 😉

      I love the ‘awhi’ concept, too, and the nod to the Story God. (So, are you a fan of Mary Renault too? ‘Tymon’s Flight’ was hugely influenced by her take on the Theseus story… I think I may have rambled on myself about this before.)

      I do believe very much in giving thanks to something greater than ourselves when we tell stories, or engage in any creative activity. Not because I think some spooky spirit is guiding artists, but because I believe in acknowledging my debt to a collective human wellspring. After all, we do all draw from a shared pool of culture and experience, consciously or unconsciously. We all fish in that sea of stories, to misquote Salman Rushdie. It’s only common courtesy to give thanks for what we find there…

      Perhaps I’m being a Romantic. We’ll have to add ‘R’ to the ‘C’ list…

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